Johannesburg – “Wise men,” the Greek author and philosopher Plato observed, “talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.”
This is what I was left to ponder after Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula found himself trending in the mix of a political storm this week, after his public rant over Bafana Bafana’s latest flop in continental competition. I won’t stoop so low as to apply that distasteful epithet by Sanral’s spin doctor Vusi Mona on Mbalula by questioning his IQ level. But he has left me with no option but to hold him up to scrutiny for his indiscretion.
You see, I’ve always had misgivings about Mbalula’s tactical and diplomatic acumen, given his inclination to churn out vitriolic assaults on rival politicians. But I chose to suppress my gut feelings and afford him the benefit of the doubt.
His forthrightness about the maladies of greed and vice that are responsible for the retrogressive state of sport in our country was all too tempting. His courage in tackling the all-powerful Fifa was an act of bravado not to be ignored, even though I had some reservations about his objection to the world football governing body’s probe into Safa’s alleged match-fixing.
South Africa, I thought, had, in “Mr Razzmatazz”, finally found the right sport minister to give our sport a new lease of life, especially our floundering football fortunes. I didn’t mind his pedantry or his pompous delivery.
Then came Monday.
He knew the nation was angry with the team’s performance. As he sat in his VIP suite, he must have seen the throngs of disgruntled Bafana Bafana supporters trudging out of Cape Town Stadium. He knew the nation needed some form a catharsis. He knew he had to seize the moment and play to the gallery. South Africans expected him to say something.
But now Mbalula has jolted me from my stupor. His disparaging remarks about Bafana Bafana players were too acerbic.
Like the proverbial religious convert who backslides at the first hurdle, I now have no doubt Mbalula has relapsed. He’s back to his spiteful ways, and it’s not hard to see why. The honourable Mbalula has, over time, become consumed by his unbridled confidence and power. Left unchecked by his comrades in the ANC-led government, he became a treacherous vampire.
As he raged at the “bunch of losers” and their “mediocrity” that has plunged soccer into “a crisis of monumental proportions”, my heart went out to the younger players like Lindokuhle Mbatha, who played with so much gusto against the mighty Super Eagles of Nigeria. To make it worse, the loose-tongued Mbalula had the brass neck to target goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs, knocking his confidence.
One man who could have listened intently as Mbalula tore down the players is Maduna Nqabeni, the traditional surgeon who circumcised him five years ago.
For starters, Mbalula was in 2007 reportedly caught unawares when he was abducted and taken for initiation in the thick bushes of Philippi, near Cape Town, to undergo the mandatory rite to passage to manhood. At the time, he was the head of the ANC’s campaigns. Away from the glamour of charming the ANC crowds with his trademark rhetoric, “Mr Mbaks” tried to put up a fight to free himself. But he was no reckoning for the might of his abductors who were determined to put him “to the sword”.
“He is going to graduate and become a man,” remarked Nqabeni. “We need our leaders to intervene and help protect our traditions, but there is nothing they can do if they are not men themselves. I find it strange that there are leaders in the ANC who are boys. I find it disturbing.”
Nqabeni, would, perhaps more than anyone else, have felt let down by his former protégé’s unmanly public utterances.
I thought this guy had shed his hot-headedness, wild and boisterous manners and graduated into a refined and urbane man. But it’s clear he has dismally failed the test, Nqabeni might have thought.
If he did, he was not alone in thinking so. Mbalula’s language and tone were reminiscent of his rants while ANC Youth League leader, rather than showing the tact and diplomacy associated with his ministerial rank. It was the Mbalula of old, thundering at a political rally with scant regard for the damage he may sow.
As Mbalula is unlikely to be arraigned for his Bafana statements, the thing he needs is a cleansing ceremony to rid him of the demons haunting him. His ancestors, or family elders in his Free State home, must be upset that he underwent the initiation ritual miles and miles away.
They must also be questioning the legitimacy of his initiation, given that the man who hatched the plot to circumcise him was none other than the disgraced ANC member Tony Yengeni.
They must also be disturbed that Nqabeni’s manhood name is Dalingozi, loosely translated as “the one who causes danger or havoc”.
The ceremonial rite of passage into manhood has done little, if anything, to tame his loose tongue.